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Both soil health and soil fertility are a growing concern. Soils need to be groomed to fulfil their job in the carbon and water cycle and reduce the external inputs needed for food production. To create a sustainable agriculture the world needs to produce food from healthier and more resistant soils, balanced with a healthy microbiome throughout the chain form farm to fork.
It is likely that the soil’s microbiome is linked to the human microbiome, one of the most important resilience building life systems in the human body. In the post-Covid world good food is a crucial factor for building and maintaining resilience.
To improve soil health and a balanced soil microbiome, users of the end product need to be made aware where to put their money to create a supply of more healthy foods from healthier soils. Universal digitization of the taxonomy of research data, transparency and digitalised storytelling can provide a better understanding of the link between soil and stomach and create awareness of good food.
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Dick Veerman founded Foodlog, an independent interactive Dutch journal on food, nutrition and food politics. He got his masters degree at Utrecht University (French Linguistics and Philosophy). Started out his career lecturing philosophy at Utrecht University. "Then I made a wonderful mistake I don't regret: I joined NMB Bank (1988) and assisted the Board in creating ING Group. Learned a lot about 'how things work' out there." After a career in consulting a nasty kind of rhumatism forced him to make a different choice. GMO-therapy helped him to fully overcome his handicap. In 2005 he started Foodlog.
Peter Voshol is a senior scientist and integrative medical physiologist at Louis Bolk Institute, Netherlands as well as University of Cambridge, UK with an interest in Integrative Nutrition and Health. Since 2000 his major goal is to integrate his physiology expertise to link Nutrition and Health in the field of obesity/diabetes, while working at the Leiden University Medical Center, NL, the Joslin Diabetes Center, Harvard Medical School, USA and as Director of the Disease Model Core, Institute of Metabolic Science, University of Cambridge, UK. Voshol is co-founder member of the Scientific Advisory Board ‘Stichting Voeding Leeft’ Living Food Consortium, The Netherlands. The goal is to strengthen the importance of lifestyle as medicine not only in prevention but also as cure. He was one of the leading initiators for largest and successful ‘KeerDiabetes2Om’ lifestyle group program for reversing Type 2 Diabetes.
Wim van der Putten is Head of the Department of Terrestrial Ecology at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology. He graduated at Wageningen University in 1984. In 2010 Van der Putten initiated the Wageningen Centre for Soil Ecology (CSE) and since then he is chairman of the daily board. Aims of this centre are to stimulate utilization of knowledge from fundamental research and to attract and support young researchers in soil ecology. In 2011, he was one of the founders of the Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative (GSBI) that integrates and disseminates information on the biological status of soils world-wide, a.o. serving as an expert centre for FAO, CBD and other global organizations.
PREVIOUS CHATS IN THIS SERIES 1. Digitisation will disrupt the food system as we know it
In the opening chat of the series, moderator Tiffany Tsui chats with panelists Paul Buisman (Moba, egg packing machines), Kristian Möller (GlobalG.A.P.), Hans de Gier (SyncForce, data integration), and Dick Veerman (Foodlog) to discuss the challenges ahead in the world of digital food.
2. Bye manpower, hello machines and value
In the absence of a global authority that is aware of the powers unleashed by the digitisation of food, what 'no-body' can guard the interests of the global community?
Hans de Gier (SyncForce) explains - during the second chat - the Consumer Goods Forum's Data Ports project. The project's goal is to make the myriad of product standards interoperable by a common basic taxonomy and connecting simple identifiers. The good news: it is fully feasible, as Hans explains in great technical detail.
3. The True Code - a free global digital passport for every farmer and facility
Chat 3: in the near future, data will travel with products. Retailers and brands need fast, cheap, and reliable data. There are several platforms (blockchains, data lakes, ERP systems) that already contain supplier and product related-data. These platforms, however, are not interconnected. Data exchange is limited and complicated. Interconnectivity and the easy exchange of data cannot do without a reliable, yet simple identification of every individual company that has a role in the supply chain. This can be done by using a unique electronic passport connected to every individual facility that is an actor in the chain.
4. Blooming Africa - the transfer of practical know how, organising farmers, the AfCFTA free trade area and creating value with transparency
Tiffany Tsui discusses - during the fourth chat - with hands on expert Dutch strawberry grower and advisor Jan Robben, TRUE Code-developer Marjan de Bock-Smit, Victoria Madedor (African Farmers Stories), and Dr Ikechi Agbugba (Rivers State University, Nigeria) how recent border closures on the one hand and new trade opportunities on the other impact agriculture in Africa.
At 1:08:00 min. they were spontaneously joined by Memory Nyakwima Chakwita from Zimbabwe who showed the potential strawberry fields in which she would like to apply all that was discussed. It was a special moment in the informal part of the discussion, showing the potential of this way of connecting people, expertise and ideas.
5. How to unlock Africa’s agricultural potential?
In the fifth chat of the Digital Food series, Tiffany Tsui asked her panel of African experts about challenges to organize trust, capital and infrastructure for African smallholder entrepreneurs. Victoria Madedor (African Farmers Stories), Babatunde Olarewaju (Futux Agri Consult, Lagos, Nigeria), and Dr Ikechi Agbugba (Rivers State University, Nigeria) discussed the overcoming challenges to trade and export of crops. Marjan de Bock-Smit (founder ImpactBuying, former CEO SIM Supply) responds.
6. Carbon Credits: discovering the self-financing potential of African farmers
Carbon emissions are a growing concern for big companies. The digitisation of food will make their efforts - or lack of them - transparant to the consumer. Investors like BlackRock prefer the big brands to take responsibility. That's why carbon credits are coming of age in the trade of doing ethical business. Africa and its farmers will probably profit the most from carbon credits as can help them build on their own capital. Are carbon credits indeed the holy grail?
7. Building natural capital: metrics & transparant monitoring
Moderator Tiffany Tsui discussed with Anke Hamminga, Sustainability lead EU at Cargill how her company is working on a new methodology to clarify contradictory choices modern consumers and their suppliers make with the intention of doing the right thing. Cargill intends to stay neutral but wants to raise awareness amongst their clients and consumer about the consequences of so-called sustainable choices serving nature and opposing climate change.
8. Transparency by storytelling: commercial opportunities
Thanks to food digitisation, consumers, retailers, and food processors can make more informed choices. Wilbert Hilkens, CEO and founder of FoodInsights, and Stef Heutink from IVRM Reputation showed the audience how presenting stories can provide new commercial opportunities.
9. EU Green Deal: assessing & monitoring environmental impact
The European Union (EU) has the ambition to be the first climate neutral continent by 2050. As soon as the news was out, it was criticized for being unspecific on the criteria and metrics. Yet €1 trillion of public money will be spend from now till 2050. How to assess the results in terms of real environmental impact?
Petra Laux (acting Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) of Syngenta Group) and Krijn Poppe (Policy advisor, economist and retired Research Manager at Wageningen University Research), led by moderator Tiffany Tsui discussed the base on which the Green Deal has been formulated for agriculture and the required criteria and metrics to put the Green Deal meaningfully into practice.
The first Digital Food conference in it's pre-covid physical guise in Amsterdam, 2019.
Photo credits: 'Dick Veerman, founder and CEO Foodlog', by Bas Uterwijk for Foodlog Media